When I talked with Matthew Sweet about “Wicked System of Things,” I was under the impression the album he released for Record Store Day Black Friday was a bunch of leftovers from the sessions that produced his two previous albums, last year’s “Tomorrow’s Forever” and this year’s “Tomorrow’s Daughter.”
My impression was wrong — at least in the sense that “Wicked Systems of Things” doesn’t feel like scraps thrown together to put something out. Rather, it’s an album that’s as strong and cohesive as its predecessors, which are Sweet’s best work in at least a decade.
Song No. 3 on Side 1 of the 180-gram vinyl pretty well defines the album — it’s called “Electric Guitar” — the lyric “electric guitar will speak for me/you’re going to have to listen to see” and the sound, on that track and most of the 10 other songs is drenched in Jason Victor’s skronky, driving New Wavish guitar sound.
Recorded at his home studio in Omaha, with Sweet on bass and his longtime collaborator Ric Menck anchoring the songs on solid rock ‘n’ roll drums, “Wicked System of Things” has some Sweet power pop with tunes like “Good Girls Are Gone” and “Eternity Now,” psychedelia with a cool melody on “Flashback” and appropriately moves into Cheap Trick territory on “Counting The Days.” The project began as a collaboration between Sweet and Cheap Trick’s Tom Petersson and Rick Nielsen that ultimately didn’t happen.
There are two truly notable songs on the album — The gorgeous “Backwards Upside Down,” a gem that contains a “Howard The Duck” quote that’s as good as anything Sweet’s ever done and my favorite track — at least for now.
It’s the dark, four-minute “It’s a Charade,” an unmasking of deception, greed and Chinese-made hats of one Donald Trump — with a killer hook of a chorus “she’s a Russian bride/It’s a charade” with oohs and ahs. Protest has rarely sounded this cool.
Given its limited edition release, it might be a trick to find “Wicked System of Things.” It’s not on streaming services or at online music retailers like Amazon. And I’m sure it’s scarce at local record shops. But an internet search turned up a few copies for sale at reasonable prices — around the $20 it cost the day after Thanksgiving.
I’ll guarantee that, for the Lincoln native’s hometown fans, tracking down the album will be well worth the effort. Sweet’s at creative peak and “Wicked System of Things” is the third installment of what is essentially a trilogy that captures that in all its beauty, beat and glory.